IN THE HIGH-ENERGY, HIGH-DOLLAR WORLD of Texas high tech, the metaphors fly fast and furious. “We’re cable on steroids,” Mark Cuban says one minute, and then, the next, “It’s like playing basketball twenty-four hours a day. Only in this game, they raise and lower the hoops every ten minutes.” Forgive Cuban his rhetorical enthusiasm. These are heady days for him and his partner, Todd Wagner—respectively, the president and the CEO of Dallas’ Broadcast.com, which was launched on the modest premise that you should be able to listen to any radio station anywhere in the world on your computer and which today dominates the burgeoning industry of “streaming” audio and video over the Internet. A little more than a year ago, on July 17, 1998, their company went public, and by the start of the next day the price of one share of its stock had skyrocketed from $18 to $68, setting Wall Street records. In February they made history again by hosting a live Victoria’s Secret fashion show, attracting 1.5 million viewers—a high-water mark for single-day visitation to an Internet event—and setting new standards for various forms of online chaos. Then, in April, their wealth on paper ($3.8 billion for Cuban and $700 million for Wagner) turned to gold when cybergiant Yahoo! announced it would buy Broadcast.com for $5.7 billion in common stock and options.
Not bad for a couple of Indiana University alums who simply wanted to follow Hoosier basketball in their new hometown of Dallas. In the beginning—that is, four years ago—Cuban and Wagner called themselves AudioNet, and their idea seemed somewhat preposterous: Why would anyone want to configure a $4,000 computer to make it work like a $6 radio? But they believed they were on to something. “It wasn’t about building a better mousetrap, because there was no mousetrap,” says Cuban. “Todd went, ‘You’re the geek, you figure it out.’ So we did, but we didn’t even know if there was a business there. We were broadcasting from the second bedroom of my house, and we’d get on the Net and type, ‘We Are the Kings of the Internet. Is Anybody Listening?’ And we’d get these e-mails back: ‘Yeah. Shut up.’”
Undeterred, Cuban and Wagner proceeded to break down the geographical barriers of a global medium while building their company into an online gateway to the broadcasts of more than four hundred college and professional sports teams and 420 radio stations from around the world. Simply by logging on to www.broadcast.com, anyone with the right software installed can tune in to the BBC World Service; Rush Limbaugh and Art Bell; exclusive all-Celtic and all—Native American formats;